Is It Just Me... Or Is Sunshine The Best Sci-fi Flick Of The Century?

Better than Avatar, Prometheus and Moon?

Sounds like a stretch, right? Then consider the following:

One, the competition is either the gorgeous-but-dim Avatar and Prometheus, or the impressive (given the budget) Moon.

Two, its influence can be felt everywhere, from that Carling advert which equates heaven with a rubbish nightclub to John Murphy’s stirring score adorning every other trailer.

Oh yeah, and let’s not forget reason three: it’s absolutely freaking awesome.

Danny Boyle’s hyper-visceral direction means you feel each atmosphere change – the burning sun, the freezing coolant, the choking space dust – as if you were aboard the Icarus 2.

Alex Garland’s script is characteristically sharp and brutal, making plot points of the crew’s gnawing boredom.

How often do you watch a group of film characters die and only remember their deaths? Here you remember their names, (Capa, Mace, Kaneda), their roles (physicist, engineer, captain) – even the things they love. “The waves make me feel peaceful,” says the bellicose Mace (Chris Evans) as he takes some time out in the Earth Room simulator.

The inclusion of an Oxygen Garden (greenhouse) so the ship can generate its own air supply is another genius detail: Nasa should take note.

The filmmakers also deserve credit for using an international cast of (excellent) actors from as far afield as Malaysia (Michelle Yeoh) and Japan (Hiroyuki Sanada), accents and all.

It’s the future, the fate of the entire world is at stake, yet every other space flick would just feature a bunch of WASP-y Americans with an English villain.

Indeed, the chief criticism here is that when the space-crazed – and English – Captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) turns up, the film turns, briefly and shockingly, into a psycho thriller, and loses its way.

It’s a fair point, but most sci-fi flicks are only this, nothing more.

Crucially, Sunshine has the looks to match its brains, something nobody could claim for, say, Avatar, which remains one Unobtanium molecule short of a full set.

The still-unsurpassed CGI is so gorgeous both the crew, and the film, are stopped in their tracks by Mercury pirouetting impossibly round the sun.

“In the face of this,” says Pinbacker, “we are dust, nothing more.” It’s hard to disagree.

And herein lies the key. Moon can be boiled down to: “Don’t go into space with Spacey.” Avatar: “Be excellent to one another.” Prometheus has two: “Don’t fight aliens with geologists,” and “Don’t let things crawl up you.”

But this is a film that’s actually about something: the nature of sacrifice, the human race’s capacity to destroy itself, the quasi-religious powers of the sun.

It’s an entrancing light show about the entrancing possibilities of light, in genre that’s still stuck in the dark ages. Or is it just me?

What's your favourite sci-fi film of the 21st century? Let us know below...


    • prime43

      Sep 7th 2012, 7:28

      Are you sure you watched the same film called Subshine I watched? The one I saw as overly long, a bit dull and lost all direction and sense after the first hour. It was good, but not the masterpiece people claim it is. I've seen worse Sci-Fi films, butnive definitely seen better. In answer to your question in the title of the article, yes it's just you.

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    • markvenn

      Sep 7th 2012, 7:44

      one word NO. I watched Sunshine and it felt too long and I started to lose interest. I do like Sci Fi films and have seen better than that. But every one is different

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    • Bouge

      Sep 7th 2012, 7:52

      Sunshine was alright but not one of Danny Boyle's better films

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    • Bouge

      Sep 7th 2012, 8:04

      As for the best? Although not all strictly sci fi. Children of Men District 9 Inception Monsters Donnie Darko

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    • ChrisWootton

      Sep 7th 2012, 8:15

      First Half.. great. Second Half.. Event Horizon. It's just you. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is 100 times better as is District 9.

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    • thedanieljson

      Sep 7th 2012, 9:33

      Sunshine is fantastic, given. But I would say that Moon IS better - there's not another film that comments on the nature of identity half as well as it does. Children of Men is probably my favourite Sci-fi film though, even if it isn't as 'sci' as the other mentioned 'fi's.

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    • Gashead

      Sep 7th 2012, 9:38

      I think Sunshine is an absolutely sterling film. Who can deny not loving the visuals, acting, and the Icarus distress becon sound? But in my opnion District 9, Moon and (if you count it as one) Inception still surpass the film.

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    • 2Dglasses

      Sep 7th 2012, 10:04

      Its certainly underrated, but still the final part is a bit formulaic-getting picked off one by one etc, lots of noble sacrifices..

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    • Hadouken76

      Sep 7th 2012, 10:32

      Is it me or did i just pay £3.80, when I can just read TF here for free?

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    • Jrdnsans1792

      Sep 7th 2012, 10:46

      Yeah, Sunshine was a great film, but would have to say both Moon and District 9 were better.

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    • budgieboy95

      Sep 7th 2012, 11:11

      Well i will vote for sunshine, because to me it is perfect Sci-Fi. Intelligent, slow moving and cerebral.

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    • Flem3297

      Sep 7th 2012, 11:40

      I agree with some points but I wouldn't say it's the best of the century. There are certain moments of genius and beauty but as mentioned already there are stronger sci-fi's as a whole out there.

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    • Whirz

      Sep 7th 2012, 12:33

      Best sci-fi of the century is a bit of a stretch, but it's a great film, well acted, beautiful visually, and in my opinion, a quite underrated film. Best part for me though is that incredible score.

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    • SiMan

      Sep 7th 2012, 12:41

      My favourite Danny Boyle film - plus it showed Chris Evans can actually act seriously without smugging his way through a role

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    • marcusgibson

      Sep 7th 2012, 13:51

      I see your point, but I don't agree. Sunshine was trying to be all of the above but when you evoke Moon in your argument and sum it up with "Don’t go into space with Spacey", you've lost your argument. Sunshine could have been brilliant and there's no doubt that Murphy's score is the best thing about it, but Moon is probably the Sci-Fi film of the century so far. Sunshine is far from the top of that list.

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    • vadPINGvin

      Sep 7th 2012, 14:24

      Sunshine is one of the worst SF movies i've ever seen. A very nice screensaver with mindless script. It's maybe a good fantasy movie, but not SCIENCE-fiction. Every character is stupid, the comuter is stupid, their mission is stupid, and the physical laws are from some other universe.

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    • FBLRidgway

      Sep 7th 2012, 14:32

      Moon, Inception and District 9 where all better in my opinion. Although I do rate Sunshine as one of the better Sci-Fi films of the last ten years, and its obviously a million times better than Avatar.

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    • Bouge

      Sep 7th 2012, 15:28

      Danny Boyle 1)Trainspotting, 2)Shallow Grave, 3)28 days later, 4)127 hours, 5)Slumdog Millionaire, 6)Sunshine, 7)millions, 8)The Beach, 9) A life less ordinary.

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    • nigep01

      Sep 7th 2012, 17:04

      I love this film, but it seems from the comments that I might be in the minority, yes it does lose its way a bit but I love the look and feel of it I wish there were more like it. Not the best this century though have to agree with some other posters Moon or Inception take that title at the moment. All I know is that I would rather watch Sunshine on a loop for all eternity than sit through 5 minutes of Avatar which is complete and utter pants, James Cameron only gets a pass on that because he made Aliens (best sci-fi ever made!!!).

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    • HughFran

      Sep 7th 2012, 17:08

      @ vadPINGvin calm down, it may not be the most accurate Science Fiction movie but at least it tries - unlike other brainless Sci-Fi movies out there. I for one am glad to see the love for this movie on Total Film, I'm a big fan of Sunshine and it's one of my favourite Danny Boyle movies and one of my favourite Sci-Fi movies period. It feels real, the technology, the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Okay, the end of the movie strays into slasher territory which is a bit of a curve-ball but everything leading up to it is gripping. I cared for the characters (even Harvey) and their deaths had impact on me whereas in other sci-fi movies I couldn't give a hoots who lived or died. And how can I post this without mentioning the beautiful soundtrack - one of the best movie soundtracks ever, it's so good I downloaded it to my Ipod and listen to it regularly. Well done Total Film for this article!

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    • devilsfoxes

      Sep 7th 2012, 18:25

      For me Inception best Sci-Fi of last decade. I have weird fond memories of Sunshine and want to like it a lot more then I do. It's quite amazing just how much the Pinbacker character hurts the whole film. I just wish they'd filmed it more realistically. The style Boyle goes for here is commendable but flops. I mostly remember the whole thing as being claustrophobic and unpleasant although incredibly effective at times. Ultimately for all the moments of catharsis, it just doesn't send you off satisfied at the end.

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    • Jeffbiscuits

      Sep 7th 2012, 18:32

      I prefer Alien 3

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    • FBTJames29

      Sep 7th 2012, 18:49

      It is just you.

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    • DomCobb

      Sep 7th 2012, 19:09

      1. Inception (Gap) 2. District 9 3. Children of Men 4. Wall-E 5. Star Trek 6. Minority Report 7. Super 8 8. Sunshine 9. Moon 10. Prometheus

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    • michaelST

      Sep 7th 2012, 19:15

      I'm sorry, you are just massively massively wrong, for several reasons 1. Absolutely NO explanation was given as to why the sun suddenly started dying. It was just an "Oh yes, in 50 years, we're all doomed". That made absolutely no sense. Suns operate on times of hundreds of thousands of millennia, not a few decades here and there. I realise, its a film and I'm supposed to suspend my disbelief, but I could have at least done with a few lines of dialogue! Like, an asteroid with a bizarre unknown element crashed into the sun and started mucking up the Fusion reaction, or a micro black hole started sucking up the sun's fuel reserves or something. Something, anything. Just don't treat me like an idiot. 2. The O2 garden isn't a brilliant detail. It may look "good" cinematicly (and for the record, it didn't really), but scientifically it makes no sense. You'd be far better off blowing the CO2 through tanks of algae or something else like that. And when you're making an SF film of this kind, details like that should be important. 3. No explanation was given whatsoever into the situation back on earth. We just got some kids playing in the snow, not really enough to actually make sense of things. Cold weather shutting down the planet? Governments collapsing? Tropical rainforests snowing over? Did no one think that there might be an interesting aspect of the story to tell there? 4. No explanation whatsoever was given as to how exactly the Captain of Icarus one managed to stay alive all that time. Yes, he had air, but that was about all. He would have run out of food, water, basically everything. How was he living? 5. What happened to Kapa? Did he just "survive"? Why? What happened? So he was somehow caught between the fire of the sun and the fusion explosion of the package? Or the simulation? Or...what? Again, no explanation. The thing is, I don't expect films to be scientifically accurate 100% of the time. I do however, expect them to make sense. Sunshine didn't make sense. While it did offer an interesting narrative on the psychology of space travel and the self sacrificial/self destructive nature of the human species, it could have done all those things much much better, if it had actually bothered to construct a sensible universe.

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    • eugenemorrow

      Sep 7th 2012, 19:15

      So damn right. Emotionally way ahead of all the latest sci-fi movies.

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    • jessehammer

      Sep 7th 2012, 21:09

      I enjoy the hell out of 'Sunshine' but the end very much fails to live up to the promise of the first half. I have to second 'Children Of Men' and 'Inception' as far superior films in this regard as they are true to form for the duration and truly masterpieces of film making in many aspects. Would have loved to see what Cuaron or Nolan would have done with the Olympics.

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    • karl1983

      Sep 7th 2012, 22:37

      After seeing the joke that was Prometheus I listed ten sci fi movies that where better. Sunshine was in my top five with out a doubt. But for me Moon is number one by a long way. Maybe even the past forty years worth of sci fi. FYI The thing to take away from Moon isn't "don't go in to space with Kevin Spacey" Its "don't just big businesses they'll clone you whilst your back is turned."

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    • Padla

      Sep 8th 2012, 0:02

      In my view, Sunshine started well but got progressivcely worse, Prometheus suffered from poor scripting and character development (but looked stunning), Inception left me feeling like I'd just had a conversation with someone that was extremely smart and talented...but ultimately a bit of a w****r... and Avatar, although perfectly rendered was unoriginal and shameless plagiarism. The only Sci-fi film this Millennium that had originality, great narrative structure, a good balance of tones and fantastic design was District 9...and it came out of nowhere without hype which helps. Loved: Moon, Donnie Darko, Serenity, Star Trek, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Children of Men...does Watchmen count?

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    • moviemaniacgirl

      Sep 8th 2012, 4:52

      I sincerely agree with you, though I believe Moon may be tied with Sunshine for the top bill. I think both Prometheus and Avatar were films that missed a mark that their visuals set up, and even Prometheus's visuals were nothing too grand. The acting in Moon, Promethus (only Fassbender) and Sunshine is always top notch, but there is something to be said about the fact that Sunshine really does look at spiritual, metaphysical and existential questions and try to answer them with human nature. It is the future, but we are still people. People get bored, people get upset, people need Earth. Along all of this there are people willing to give up their life for the common good. This movie is gorgeous (almost as stunning as "The Fountain") and really does try to answer the question it brings up (unlike Prometheus).

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    • Andy85

      Sep 8th 2012, 10:41

      Sunshine for me is the single best sci fi next to the original Alien. For sheer horror Alien tips the bill, it practically invented sci fi horror and has never been matched since. The atmosphere was so tense that you could cut a heartbeat with heavy breathing in that film and the pacing of the film was perfect. Sunshine however, is still and always will be the best visual film of all time. You can practically believe that they are delving into our nearest star at the films climax and psychologically, we are going to have to face the death of the sun one day so this film represents a factual fear in all of us. For me, the slow pacing and beautiful score allows us to sit back and admire the beauty of what keeps us alive every day and for that reason, I agree that Sunshine is the best sci fi of this decade. I would also like to mention that this film also has the best commentary provided by one of the UK's best physasists Prof Brian Cox.

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    • tonyblack

      Sep 8th 2012, 10:52

      No chance. Children of Men gets this accolade, by far and away. And century? You mean decade I think.

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    • lukedillon

      Sep 8th 2012, 13:52

      Sunshine must be viewed in the cinema. The script is lean and who can fail to be moved by Capa's last message to his parents or Kaneda's death sequence and any of Rose Byrne's moments, such noble characters. The big scene in the middle of the film makes it: the doctors logical argument winning out and the crew doomed by the choice. For me it's number one, best Boyle movie, best movie.

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    • 2Dglasses

      Sep 8th 2012, 14:57

      @Michael S T. 1)It explained as much as it needed to-the 'DVD' explanation was that a solar object had drifted into the sun causing it to shut down and the bomb was to create an event to remove the object. As these things are pretty theoretical how much detail do you want? Surely the setup is enough, you honestly felt that you were treated like an idiot for not having it put it laymans terms? get real. 2) You think it was an important detail how they created/recycled oxygen? Really? It wasnt-it was only there as a plot device. 3) No, seeing what was going on on earth (nothing much apparently) sounds like the least interesting waste of time distractor around for a tense sc-fi film. Watch the day after tomorrow if you prefer. 4) You must have passed out through rage when they discussed exactly how Pinbacker might have stayed alive-the others died leaving enough food for him. They specifically say at one point that water was recycled so yes within the confines of the film it was explained.5) Yes, i think we were supposed to think that he was caught between the sun and the explosion, for about a millsecond, as he discussed earlier with cassie.

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    • exhausted

      Sep 8th 2012, 16:24

      I liked Sunshine but Serenity gets my vote

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    • thisiscarlijn

      Sep 8th 2012, 17:06

      You can disagree with the article but please stop calling Inception a sci-fi movie. Thanks. As for the article: I think Sunshine definitely is so underrated. It is really really great and I get goosebumps every time I watch it. The music is just so amazing. But there are better SF flicks out there, like District 9 and Alien (Alien, to me, is the mother of sci-fi). Moon I think is tied with Sunshine. And I haven't seen Children of Men but since it's mentioned so many times here, I'll watch it tonight.

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    • cleanbreak

      Sep 8th 2012, 22:46

      I'm thinking District 9, although lord knows why, it reminds me of Robocop for some reason. It's a good thing, but for some reason I feel that they're linked. Probably a style thing I guess.

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    • SounzlikeKong84

      Sep 9th 2012, 0:11

      Sunshine was absolutely awesome!!! Fabulous cast, mind-boggling visuals, well acted personal and intimate drama set against a canvas of big-ideas about humanity's existence...and then in the last 30 minutes it turns into Nightmare on Elm Street in Space! Danny Boyle already made 28 Days Later...didn't need to see it set on a space ship. You gotta break sci fi down---Best Sci Fi big ideas: 2001 (but you gotta read the book too). Best Sci Fi Horror: Alien. Best Sci Fi Action: Aliens ("Game over, man!"). Best Sci fi Atmosphere: Blade Runner. Best Sci Fi Revival: The Matrix. Too many good one's to choose from. Just make a list of the top 25 and make us all happy! This was obviously not a serious statement by TF...just an effort to get some good discussion...Mission Accomplished!

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    • Agent69

      Sep 9th 2012, 0:55

      It's just you.

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    • StevePotter

      Sep 9th 2012, 1:00

      Never seen Sunshine, but your "boiling down" of Moon was a bit... silly? If anything, the movie showed that Spacey's a pretty ok guy to go to space with. Also, speaking of Duncan Jones, does "Source Code" not qualify as science fiction?

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    • mattkeane

      Sep 9th 2012, 1:05

      No it's not just you! Hands down the most impressive, intelligent and awe inspiring, proper "sci fi" movie easily the last 10 years. People just do not make sci fi for those of us with a brain and it was soo refreshing to see one that not only had my brain whirring about it until I watched again, but providing genuine tension and feeling for characters in peril (alright in the last 15 minutes I couldn't at one point work out where anyone was, let alone worry about them, but still beautiful to watch). Moon was also spectacular and just as clever, using story to grip you for its runtime, and of course rockwell's dual powerhouse performance. Please don't tell me inception or children of men or 28 days later or district 9 are better, films that are brilliant in different ways but still have those big budget popcorn spectacle sequences that I feel cant quite compete with a movie that dares to go "full sci fi" and come out the other side with such a thoughtful and long lasting piece of celluloid. Oh yeah and star trek was wikid but has to be discounted due to its pre-existing and potentially alienating origins, and that whole popcorn spectacle thing applies here too!

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    • Ali1748

      Sep 9th 2012, 3:59

      As I've said before Sunshine was a great movie until Mark Strong appeared, then it just went offf the rails. And it's not meant as an insult to Strong's just the character he was portraying and the script.

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    • chrisjdonoghue

      Sep 9th 2012, 5:44

      Danny Boyle, generally, has a bit of a "3rd Act Problem". Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, Sunshine, The Beach, 28 Days Later, etc. Sometimes, that "3rd Act Problem" isn't much of a hinderence. I can understand some people not enjoying the last bit because of the tonal shift, but I dug it. Certainly I'm one of the few in my peer group who lavishes this film with the sort of praise that Total Film just dumped on its doorstep.

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    • Darthshellers

      Sep 9th 2012, 17:05

      MichaelST: Brian Cox was the technical advisor on this film. He states: The sun is not "dying in the normal sense, but has instead been 'infected' with a 'Q-ball' -- a supersymetric nucleus, left over from the Big Bang...that is disrupting the normal matter. This is a theoretical particle that scientists at CERN are currently trying to confirm -- the film's bomb is meant to blast the Q-ball to its constituent parts, which will then naturally decay, allowing the sun to return to normal." If you're going to be pedantic, at least check out your (theoretical) facts first!

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    • DanielMcA

      Sep 9th 2012, 20:14

      Two words - Star f****n Trek.

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    • Hadouken76

      Sep 9th 2012, 20:56

      Yeah Nemesis is awesome! Featuring a pre-ripped Tom Hardy Hahahahaha

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    • DomCobb

      Sep 10th 2012, 1:36

      For those who say Inception isn't sci-fi, yeah it is. There's only one other thing it could be, and that's fantasy. But it's not that, clearly, because they use a machine I would also like to argue with anyone who thinks sci-fi is actually a genre - as with fantasy and period pieces, science fiction is only defined by the setting and/or plot devices/points. So no, I wouldn't say that Inception and Avatar are in the same genre. But I would say they're both science fiction.

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    • Hotspur1882

      Sep 11th 2012, 14:40

      Not even the best Danny Boyle movie of the century let alone sci-fi flick! Don't get me wrong, I did actually enjoy Sunshine. But better than Moon and Minority Report? And surely the Star Trek reboot was "light years" (ahem) ahead of what Sunshine offered? Serenity was extremely enjoyable. District 9 was superb! And when you broaden the boundries of what constitutes actual sci-fi then I offer Inception and Source Code to name just two others that give more of a cinematic treat than Sunshine. And for sure Prometheus gave us lots to think about .... Remembering the names of of those who died does not constitute a great movie, it just means there wasn't a lot else to focus on in terms of tight, fast paced story telling. Sunshine was slow and plodding at times, but again not saying it was a bad movie, just wasn't even close to what truly great sci-fi can be.

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    • TheGreatWent

      Sep 12th 2012, 4:10

      It's better than Prometheus, that was utter balls Ridley!

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    • tomcharles

      Aug 9th 2013, 11:44

      I don't get it. Sunshine (What a stupid name) was a horrible film. Sure it looked good, but it devolves into Friday the 13th in Space (after a brief detour into Event Horizon territory) and you can see it all coming from a mile away. As if that weren't bad enough, the whole thing is a comedy of errors, with the (presumably best scientists Earth has to offer) crew making stupid mistake after stupid mistake. Why, you ask? Simply for the sake of moving the plot, and that's the mark of a bad film. And best sci-fi of the century? What are you smoking?

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    • vickilove

      Apr 11th 2014, 11:50

      I like Sunshine... up to a point. I like it better than the truly over-long Avatar. Moon is so much the better film and Prometheus brings up many more ideas for lingering thought. Sunshine has one idea with one mission... save the earth by restarting the sun's nuclear engine. And then it gets all weird for no apparent reason. Not the best final third to a film. Sorry.

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